Evidence Used in Robert Morris’s Bankruptcy Trial
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Two documents related to the business failures of Robert Morris and John Nicholson. The first is a partly printed promissory note signed and engrossed by Nicholson to Morris, and endorsed by Morris, later used as evidence in Morris’s bankruptcy trial. The note states, “Three years after date Promise to pay Robert Morris Esqr or order Eight Thousand – Dollars for Value Received.” The second document is Peter Lohra’s protest of Nicholson’s bad promissory note. The document has an embossed seal in the lower left corner and is tipped to a larger sheet. On the document’s verso is a note reading “Exhibited to us under the commission against Robert Morris, Philadelphia, 19th September 1801,” and signed by Joseph Hopkinson and Thomas Cumpston, commissioners appointed to oversee the proceedings after Morris had languished in prison for three years. ROBERT MORRIS.
Autograph Document Signed. Philadelphia, July 17, 1795. 2 pp. 6 ½ x 4”. With Peter Lohra, Document Signed. Philadelphia, July 20, 1798, endorsed on verso, Joseph Hopkinson and Thomas Cumpston, Philadelphia, September 19, 1801. 1 p. 8 x 13”.
Robert Morris (1734-1806) was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. He is best known for his role as financier of the Continental Congress. With the national government virtually bankrupt, Morris risked his own personal fortune by purchasing supplies for the army, pressuring the states for cash contributions and securing a major French loan to finance the Bank of North America. He spent his remaining years in various public positions, including U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, but was imprisoned for debt in 1798 after his involvement in several failed speculative schemes. His wife was able to use an annuity to eventually get him out of prison, but he never rebuilt his fortune.
John Nicholson (1758-1800) was a Welsh-born émigré to Pennsylvania who engaged in a variety of business ventures in revolutionary-era Philadelphia. In 1778 he was appointed clerk to the Board of Treasury of the Continental Congress. In 1782 he was appointed state Comptroller General, involving him in the collection of taxes and the liquidation of Loyalists convicted of treason in absentia. In 1793, he was impeached for personally speculating in federal securities with state funds. He was acquitted but forced to resign because he was by this time a large public defaulter. In 1795, he joined Robert Morris and James Greenleaf in creating the North American Land Company, which invested in six million acres of lands in six states. Stung by the worldwide panic of 1797 and the Napoleonic Wars (which drove down the European market for American lands), Morris and Nicholson were each imprisoned for debt. Nicholson died in 1800, more than four million dollars in debt. His estate was not satisfactorily settled for over a half-century, and required the creation of a special Nicholson Court of Pleas in 1843.